Nuance is not a virtue of good sociological theory. Sociologists typically use it as a term of praise, and almost without exception when nuance is mentioned it is because someone is asking for more of it. I shall argue that, for the problems facing Sociology at present, demanding more nuance typically obstructs the development of theory that is intellectually interesting, empirically generative, or practically successful.
As alleged virtues go, nuance is supercially attractive. Isn’t the mark of a good thinker the ability to see subtle dierences in kind or gracefully shade the meaning terms? Shouldn’t we cultivate the ability to insinuate overtones of meaning in our concepts? Further, isn’t nuance especially appropriate to the dicult problems we study? I am sure that, like mine, your research problems are complex, rich, and multi-faceted. (Why would you study them if they were simple, thin, and one-dimensional?) When faced with problems like that, a cultivated capacity for nuance might seem to reect both the diculty of the topic and the sophistication of the researcher approaching it. I am sure that, like me, you are a sophisticated thinker. When sophisticated people like us face this rich and complex world, how can nuance not be the wisest approach?
It would be foolish, not to say barely comprehensible, for me to try to argue against the idea of nuance in general. at would be like arguing against the idea of yellow, or the concept of ostriches. It does not make much sense, in any case, to think of nuance as something that has a distinctive role all of its own in theory, or as something that we can add to or take away from theory just as we please.